Tuesday, 18 June 2002
Chabola?’ I hear you say, ‘Surely you mean Chombola?’
No, I mean Chabola.
Let me explain.
I went into Leitza on Saturday in search of a bar showing the big match so that I could absorb some of the atmosphere and have a couple of beers whilst cheering on the lads. Most had the local pelota games showing on Basque TV but I found one which was empty except for an old man and his little grandson and the village idiot who was wearing a Barcelona T-shirt and staring rigidly at the TV set in the corner which was being flicked through the channels by the proprietor with a remote.
‘Looks promising,’ I thought.
Sure enough I had found the Leitza Football Supporters Club in full session.
Football being the passion of Spain is therefore anathema to Basques and anyone who is interested is either a traitor to Basque Nationalism or, as in the case of my new-found friend, off his rocker.
We watched the first half in silence except when Owen or Beckham appeared on the screen when the guy in the Barça t-shirt would turn to me and say, ‘Beek-jam‘ or ‘Oven‘ and grin, showing a lack of dental attention that only Leo could surpass.
I couldn’t stand it any longer and left at half time.
I walked around the corner to another bar, there are dozens in Leitza – not that you would ever know from the outside, they look like shops or private houses, very much like Ireland but without the sign boards – where I found el Mundial on the TV being ignored by the heaving masses inside. By the end of the game I had enjoyed quite a few beers and a few more tintos as well and was ready for my siesta.
Drove back home and as I entered the drive saw Don Juan fiddling with the lawn mower.
‘Bang goes my siesta,’ I thought, and gave him a hand with the long grass in the orchard. Then we ploughed up the weeds between the rows of maize and potatoes using his little hand tractor he had wheeled from his place up the road. He said he was going up into the hills to collect some logs for firewood and I asked if I could come with him.
He laughed, “No, you don’t want to come up there, it’s very steep and the tree trunks are really heavy!”
I insisted. My new life as old man of the mountains required me to face every challenge. Besides I was the same age as Don Juan and twice as tall.
We drove up the narrow winding track through stunning beech forests high above the valley and chatted all the way.
“That’s where the finest wild mushrooms can be found in October.”
“Beech is cut down when the moon is full, to get white timber. Oak is felled when the moon is on the wane to ensure the sap isn’t rising.”
“The migrating doves used to fly past here in huge numbers in Autumn but the big blades turning in the wind farm up there has frightened them off and they now pass lower down the valley.”
He had felled 6 beech trees in February and we now went back to saw one up into manageable chunks for my fire next winter. To identify his trees he had sprayed his number, 15, on each trunk so that others would know not to take them. He lopped off the branches and I dragged them up the near vertical hill side to load them in the back of the van. I tried lifting one of the metre long logs and could barely shift it. Don Juan popped one on each shoulder and trotted up the cliff face like a mountain goat.
We got back and whilst he sawed the tree trunks into logs, I split and stacked them.
By now I was absolutely knackered. During one of my many ‘breathers’ I got out my digital camera and showed him some ‘city boy’ tricks to try and prove I wasn’t utterly useless. He could not believe his eyes when I showed him his photo, seconds after it was taken, downloaded onto my laptop.
We agreed that I would take him in the Beast to dinner in nearby Ezkurra after we had showered and changed. He phoned ahead and ordered lamb on the wood-fired barbecue, which would take an hour or so to cook.
He was suitably impressed with the Beast, stroking the leather and not daring to touch the buttons that adjusted the seat despite my urging him to try them out.
We had several bottles of wine, salad, fish, lamb, cheese and dozens (I think) of Armagnacs during which time I discovered he was related to just about everyone in the dining room, all of whom came over and slapped him on the back whilst greeting me like visiting royalty. We left around 2 in the morning and drove slowly back to Casa Chabola.
I slept well.
During our conversations, I asked him why the house is called ‘Chombola.’
“It’s not,” he said, “it’s called chabola.”
A chabola is a shack or shepherd’s hut usually built next to a barn or borda where the shepherd can take shelter, cook and sleep. Houses are given names, not by the residents but by the neighbours and most names refer to the occupants. Some families have lived on the same spot for over a thousand years. So a house will be called ‘Geocochea’s place’ or such like.
Why the neighbours decided that the Swiss chalet style house built by Don Juan and his brother some ten years ago nowhere near a borda be referred to as the chabola was never revealed either to me or to Don Juan but chabola it is.
So there you have it.
I’m off, today, to meet up with Ted and DouDou who are hiring a van to deliver my stuff from his garage to mine and driving down from Calais.
Speedy Gonzales, the Telefonica linesman, has finally strung up a wire across the fields at the back and connected me to the outside world. You can speak to Conchita, my live in maid, on +34 948 615147. She only speaks Spanish but is very good, she remembers every word you say and tells me exactly as you said it when I come home.
And never answers back.
Agur (Goodbye in Euskara or Basque)